RINER — Some teams have to rebuild while others just reload.

Auburn High School’s volleyball team did neither since last season. The Eagles stayed the same.

A team that made the state quarterfinals last year and boasted two all-state players lost no one to graduation. The 2018 Eagles are just a year older and a year better.

Auburn, now 12-0 after knocking off George Wythe Tuesday, is rolling through the schedule.

Coach Eddie Maynard’s has an embarrassment of riches with a roster that runs 12 deep.

“Every one of my players could start for a lot of teams,” Maynard said. “In my 10th year of coaching, this is the deepest team I’ve ever had.”

The depth comes not only in numbers, but in skill at every position.

Juniors Rachel Harding and Jaylin Shepherd were all-state selections as sophomores. Rachel Harding is an outside hitter with 124 kills Shepherd plays libero and leads the team in digs, averaging nearly 12 per match.

Senior Logan Long is the setter, captain and floor general. Last week she passed 1,500 assists for her career and most likely would have reached 2,000 by the end of this season, but Auburn had five matches canceled when a September tournament was wiped off the schedule due to Hurricane Florence.

Fellow senior captain Becca Harding, a middle blocker, is the older sister of Rachel Harding who has a strong presence at the net.

Outside hitter Alane Tiller and defensive specialist Lyndsay Harris are the other seniors. Emma Sutphin, a right-side hitter who has a powerful left-handed shot, is second on the team with 90 kills.

Through 12 matches, the Eagles have dropped only one set.

“We lost that one set 26-24, but we didn’t let that bother us,” said Long. That game was dropped to George Wythe, the same team Auburn dispatched 3-0 on Tuesday.

Long and Becca Harding said that the overall goal is simple: win the Class 1 state championship.

“Auburn is known for volleyball,” Long said. “We’re a small school, but volleyball is a big sport here.”

Becca Harding said the past success have led to lofty expectations. The Eagles won state championships three straight years from 2012-14.

“Since winning the three straight state titles we’ve went through a rough patch,” she said.

If by rough patch, she means a loss in the state title match, a loss in a state semifinals and last season’s loss in the state quarters, then yes, it’s been a rough patch.

Long said it’s been a rebuilding process — one that included Maynard taking the coaching reins.

“The last year they won, they graduated the whole staring line up. It was like erasing the board and starting over,” Long said. “Last year was a warm-up. We’re ready to go this year.”

For the Harding sisters, there is a literal family feel to the team.

“I love having her on the team,” Becca Harding said. “She’s my best friend. I’m always cheering her on and she’s always cheering me on.”

There rest of the team has the same feel of kinship, Long said.

“We grew up together. We’ve all played the same sports growing up. We all play on the same club team,” Long said. “We’re friends outside of volleyball.”

The club team, Virginia Athletic Academy, served as a preseason camp for the team.

Auburn’s success has come against a schedule that lacks other local powerhouse teams. The Eagles wish they had a chance to test themselves against bigger teams, but VHSL scheduling gives no benefit to larger schools scheduling a Class 1 opponent that might end up being a loss. Because the Eagles switched from the Three Rivers District to the Mountain Empire District, even traditional rival Radford dropped off the schedule.

Becca Harding said it would be nice to play Radford or other strong teams, but Maynard focuses on playing the next opponent, no matter who it is.

“When one game is over we look at who’s next,” said Long. “We are not worrying about a state championship right now but what game’s going to come next. We play whoever is in front of us.”

Eventually there will be strong teams on the other side of the net, but the Eagles are eager for that challenge.


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